It’s interesting how close you can get to someone when they’re dying. In the 13 years I’ve been nursing, I’ve spent my fair share of time keeping people company as they transition to the next chapter. In the hospital, I’d come to know them by listening to their families reminisce. I always told the children, “your dedication now is a testament to how good your parents were“, which always made them smile…and often cry. In the home setting it was better. I could see their decorating style, look at family photos, know what type of car they drove…it was more personal. I got to know them on a closer level. I always enjoyed looking at the photos the most. Obviously, they looked completely different from the person lying in the bed next to me. Healthy skin, smiles, holding grandchildren, serving their country, dancing…it all paints a picture of how they lived and how they loved.
I’ve spent most of the last week at my stepfather’s bedside, letting my mom get some rest. I come over every evening after work and stay till around midnight, when the aide she finally let us arrange arrives. I’ve never really been that close to him. Not that I didn’t like him or anything…we just never bonded. He’s kind of an introvert and tended to avoid social family gatherings. He moved here so she could be near her family when the time came for him to move on. He didn’t want her to grow old all alone, halfway across the country from her kids… where she’s been since I was 9. He’s been chronically ill since I met him. I always felt sort of bad for my mom, not being able to go out and do things…travel, make friends, whatever… ever since they moved here. I thought she was tied down by him, and I thought that was a shitty deal for her. At the same time, I figured she knew what she was getting in to with him, so sort of washed my hands of it. This past week, though…I got to know him. No, we didn’t have any heart to heart conversations. He’s well past having that ability. It’s hard to understand much of what he says now. I got to know him by watching my mom.
My mom spent the past 10 years slowly transitioning into his caregiver, and it kicked into high gear last month when he fell and broke his hip. The cancer had made his bones so brittle…that was the beginning of the end. He came home in a hospital bed and has been lying in it, in the middle of the living room, ever since…with my mom doting on him. For the first 6 weeks or so, she wouldn’t let us hire any help for him (other than to use the daily aide the hospice provides for an hour). She was devoted. She managed his medications. She re positioned him. She helped him with his urinal. She fed him. As he began to progress through this process, his needs became more frequent. He was ringing the bell for her every half hour during the night. “Please, Mom…let me hire some help”, I pleaded. She was exhausted, but refused. We set up a cot next to his bed so she could lie with him during the night. So, instead of ringing the bell every half hour, he reached over and patted her on the head. She was happy with that. Seeing the two of them, lying side by side in that living room, holding hands through the rails of the hospital bed…that’s when it clicked. God, how could I have not seen this all these years? She doesn’t have a shitty deal at all. She’s one of the lucky ones…she has true love. Something I’ve struggled my entire life to believe even exists, and it’s been right here all along.
His journey is so close to ending. He’s being visited by relatives already on the other side. Or hallucinating. One never knows. Yesterday, as my mom napped, I sat on the side of his bed, holding his hand as he processed whatever crazy shit he was seeing in the corner of the room. I looked at him and thought about how I never know if this is going to be the last time I see him awake or not, and I know my mom must feel that feeling in a much more painful way. I realized I’d never acknowledged his act of love for my mom…moving out here for her. I rubbed his hand. “Hey, Larry. I never did thank you for bringing my mom back here to us. Thank you.” My eyes were stinging, and I swallowed hard to keep from crying. He looked at me, and just gave a slight nod. I wondered if he knew how I resented her all those years for not being here. I never would have been able to let all that go, to create this budding new relationship with her this past year, if he hadn’t moved her here. He rubbed my hand. I think he knew enough.
My heart aches for what my mom is going through. I hate that I used to think her life would be so much easier once she didn’t have to take care of him.
I once was blind, but now I see…
This post was written in response to Linda G Hill’s Stream of Social Consciousness Saturday prompt